Valuable Life Lessons From Escaping Hurricane Irma

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“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

–Eric Hoffer

“Should we stay, or should we leave?” “What if we run out of gas?” “What if our home floods while we’re still in it?” These were the questions we asked ourselves as we prepared for Hurricane Irma. In those crucial moments, it was hard not to feel trapped. We’d be vulnerable if we stayed and exposed if we left. We knew that whatever decision we made, it would come with negative consequences. It was going to suck, one way or another. It was scary to realize that no matter how many news stories we heard or people we consulted, there was no way to land on a perfect answer or plan. Once I realized that everyone was acting like a weather forecaster and hurricane expert, quick to tell me their opinions as if they were facts, I knew it was time to act for self. I realized it was the perfect opportunity to look within and ask myself, “What do I think is the best thing to do for my family and me?”

In normal, day-to-day life, when things are calm and your schedule is pretty much mapped out, it can be pretty easy to flow with life. It isn’t too challenging to make decisions about what type of coffee drink you want at Starbucks, or which friends you want to go out with on the weekend. But when big, potentially life-changing decisions have to be made, it’s an entirely different ball game. In the midst of an emergency situation, all our instinctual urges, reactivity, and insecurities come to the surface. Residents of Miami were basically told to prepare for devastation. Upon hearing this news, the thought of losing my home quickly became a realistic possibility. My mind immediately wandered to end-of-days movie scenes. I imagined buildings collapsing, waves covering homes, and people praying for their lives. When I faced the reality that life as I knew it might never be the same, I realized how very lucky I was to have a life that I didn’t want to lose. I felt more fortunate than ever for the home, family, friends, and life that I so enjoy. And I wondered, “Do I stay with all my things, or do I pack up and go?”

When we’re anxious, we have three biological go-to moves: fight, flight, and freeze. When we heard we were getting a direct hit from a Category 5 hurricane—a storm with strength never seen before—my immediate instinct was to pack up and prepare faster than a cheetah chases its prey. My go-to move in that moment was flight. Other people reacted by getting angry and aggressive, and some stayed put, frozen in fear of leaving. In a crisis situation like this one, there’s no right or wrong way to react; we all follow our natural instincts. After I finished packing, I decided to sit with my family and come up with a course of action, based on what we truly thought would be best. We considered our options and made a decision grounded in our values, not our impulses.

What I experienced shocked me. We all came together and decided we would either leave together or stay together. Sure, we could leave our belongings and our homes; but we wouldn’t leave each other. We approached the conversation logically and came up with a plan that not even hurricane Irma could demolish. We decided to leave together, drive together, and make stops together. Even my parents, who’ve been divorced for over 10 years, came together and agreed to the plan.

This last week has been a long journey. I’ve spent many grueling hours in the car, evacuating and then trying to get back home. And the journey took an emotional toll, as well. We all like to think we know everything, but crisis situations humble us and cause us to make difficult decisions that offer no certain outcomes. This storm was a powerful example that the worst-case scenarios we conjure up in our minds sometimes bring about more anxiety than the actual situation does.

I’m now back home, sitting comfortably in my favorite spot in my house as I write this article. I feel more grateful than ever for my electricity and Internet connection. As I look back at this past week, I see that I’ve gained a new perspective on things. It’s as if I was given a second chance to enjoy everything I already have. It gave me the opportunity to remember what’s truly important to me, what I really value, and who I can count on. Miami didn’t end up getting a direct hit from Irma; as most people here have been saying, we “dodged a bullet.” Seeing the destruction Irma did cause in other areas— the lives lost and people displaced—I’m truly humbled by the experience. Every destructive situation brings with it a pile of valuable lessons. I’ve learned a great deal about what truly matters and how truly caring people can be. It’s clear by the many people offering to help, donate, and open their homes that humanity is still very present in our culture. For that I am thankful.

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Dr. Ilene

Article edited by Dr. Denise Fournier

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  • Lea Cohen

    I feel you expressed exactly how alot of us felt I’m just happy we all survived and everyone is home thanks lea